Kurt Russell is the true miracle of Miracle. As Herb Brooks, the middle-aged ice hockey coach who leads the United States to gold medal victory at the 1980 Winter Olympics, the actor struts and screams like a small town Patton with nary a false gesture. Russell’s grizzled, masculine face, fresh with the wrinkles of life experience, ably cuts against Miracle’s by-the-numbers heartstring tugging. As Russell observes at one point, “I don’t do sentimental speeches.” From his lips to our ears, it’s as truthful a declaration of male emotion as the cinema can give. At its heart, Miracle is a sublime love story. The love of a game brings out primal emotions the characters (and we viewers) might otherwise keep hidden. But only Russell portrays this unique eroticism to its iconic fullness. As John Carpenter foresaw, Russell is a modern day parallel to John Wayne—like the Duke, the actor wears his physical agedness as an emotionally complex suit of armor. Russell’s Brooks is a great, effortless performance in an unfortunately unsupportive film. The primary problem, as is often the case in an alarming number of today’s movies, is visual. Director Gavin O’Connor and cinematographer Dan Stoloff chose to photograph Miracle in widescreen Scope, and it’s a very dull, obvious use of the format. Extreme close-ups abound with backgrounds constantly out of focus as if to hide the rather shoddy period production values. The distinct lack of a coherent visual space keeps the film consistently earthbound, a supreme disappointment considering the promise of the simple, spirited title. Also problematic is the filmmakers’ literal presentation of Miracle’s time and place. The use of superimposed text and sound-bite montages to quickly contextualize world events of the period (the gas crisis, the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan, etc.), forces misguided nostalgia and threatens an offensive historical whitewash. That this precarious structure never fully topples is a testament to Russell’s presence and talent. It’s all too easy for wartime stories to become unwitting, one-sided propaganda, but Russell anchors Miracle in ways that transcend unilateral politics and achieve a viewer-conversant three dimensions. It’s a small personal victory, but still one to be noted. Through Russell, for one miraculous moment, we all stand united.
- Gavin O'Connor
- Eric Guggenheim
- Kurt Russell, Eddie Cahill, Patricia Clarkson, Michael Mantenuto, Patrick O'Brien Demsey, Nathan West, Noah Emmerich, Kenneth Welsh
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